The COVID-19 outbreak has effectively brought a halt to most sports leagues around the globe. THE NBA, NHL, NCAA, MLS, MLB, and PGA Tour have decided to cancel events, suspend their season, or delay the start of their season out of an abundance of caution.
After the NBA decided to suspend its season, other sporting leagues followed in suit. Despite initially contemplating hosting games in empty arenas, it was determined that shutting down events would be best. However, two sports entertainment brands will take an alternate route.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment have decided to continue with the show. On Friday, WWE moved SmackDown from Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena to Orlando’s WWE Performance Center with the spectacle being broadcast on Fox.
The XFL, which is owned by Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment, canceled the remaining games on its schedule on March 12, 2020. So far, WWE has been open for business. Besides Friday the 13th’s SmackDown event, WWE has also announced that its upcoming Raw event will also take place at the Performance Center with no live audience.
The WWE remains “committed to hosting WrestleMania at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, April 5”. In a statement, WWE said it has put “contingency plans in place in the event that it is canceled by government officials, civil authorities and/or local venues”.
WWE is often compared to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the faces of those organizations have long-term relationships with President Donald Trump. On Thursday, UFC President Dana White confirmed to ESPN that the promotion will continue holding events despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Much like WWE, the UFC will be moving events to its 1,500-capacity Apex facility in Las Vegas and holding events without spectators. Saturday’s UFC Brasilia event will take place in Brazil behind closed doors. Thursday’s media day events and Friday’s ceremonial weigh-ins were canceled.
Only “staff that’s running event” will be allowed into the arena. White went on to say that the upcoming Columbus event will be moved to the Apex facility while the London event “will proceed as planned”.
The London event is scheduled for March 21st while the Columbus card will take place on March 28th. White would say that he received counsel from the President and Vice President to not change the UFC’s schedule too much.
The coronavirus pandemic places the fighters on UFC’s roster and the organization in a precarious situation. As current UFC light heavyweight Corey Anderson pointed out in a Tweet, “if the UFC was to cancel there events the Athletes would NOT get paid a single dime. We only get paid to perform.”
Despite the dangers of the sport and the ongoing pandemic, the fighters are willing to risk it all. Earlier Friday, Scott Coker, President of UFC’s rival Bellator, announced on Twitter that it was going to cancel Friday night’s show in Connecticut.
It was previously announced that the event would continue without fans but that had changed by Friday. In an interview with USA Today’s MMAJunkie, Coker confirmed that everyone had been paid including the fighters, officials, cutmen, producers, and lighting guys.
He stated, “We want to make sure everybody had what they thought they were going to get. Everybody gets to go home and be with their families now.”
The Bellator president has said the whole schedule is on hold. Bellator has joined the rest of the sports organizations willing to play the wait-and-see game.
As for the UFC and WWE, the two will carry on in empty arenas while hoping for the best. UFC 248 took place on March 7, 2020 in Nevada. UFC officials announced figures showing the event had 15,077 in attendance with a live gate topping $2.7 million.
UFC 247 was held in Houston, Texas with 17,041 in attendance and a live gate topping $3.5 million. How will the organization make up for the loss since ticket sales will be off-limits? UFC Fight Night 170 will stream live on ESPN+ and will be held “behind closed doors” in Brasilia, Brazil.
UFC 172 was held at the Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland on April 26, 2014. The event attracted 13,485 spectators. Bellator MMA, which is owned and operated as a subsidiary of ViacomCBS, has never held an event in Maryland.